No. 20 Women’s gymnastics earns fourth in regional

By Wesley Deberry

In Saturday’s NCAA South Central Regional, the members of the No. 20 Illinois women’s gymnastics team entered the McKale Center in Tuscon, Ariz., with butterflies in their stomachs.

The Illini put their nerves aside on the first event, scoring a 48.525 on balance beam.

With a total team score of 194.625, the Illini finished in fourth place, tying their previous best finish in a regional tournament.

Aside from their finish in the regional tournament, the Illini finished ranked 20th in the country, which is the highest national ranking the women’s team has ever achieved.

After balance beam, the Illini went to work, scoring a 48.450 on floor exercise and a 48.800 on vault, followed by a strong finishing score of 48.850 on uneven bars.

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“We came into the tournament knowing we had nothing to lose,” junior Michelle McGrady said. “But we wanted to go out with a bang.”

The top team honors of the day belonged to No. 4 Stanford with a score of 196.600. No. 8 Oregon State finished at a close second with a score of 196.075. The performances of both Stanford and Oregon State have earned them the right to go to the NCAA National Tournament April 26-28 in Salt Lake City.

Finishing just in front of Illinois in third place was No. 15 Arizona with a score of 196.025. Arizona State’s 194.375 earned them fifth place while Illinois-Chicago’s score of 190.925 placed them in a distant sixth.

However, Saturday’s meet was a big step in the right direction for the Illini. Head coach Bob Starkell said he is very proud of his team’s performance and is optimistic about its future.

The conclusion of Saturday’s meet marked the second time Starkell took home honors as South Central Regional Coach of the Year.

McGrady’s performance also caught the judges’ eyes as she led the Illini on vault with a score of 9.850, tying for second place behind Stanford’s Liz Tricase’s score of 9.900.

Also performing well for the Illini was freshmen Nicole Cowart, with 9.625 on balance beam and Sarah Schmidt’s 9.650 on balance beam.

In the last competition of her college career, senior Cara Pomeroy scored a 9.825 on uneven bars, earning her fourth place.

“We did pretty well overall,” Cowart said. “But there are still places that we need to improve.”

While in the Phoenix airport, Cowart expressed her excitement about next season.

She hopes that this year’s experiences and the recruitment of new talent will make the intensity level rise in the gym and take the Illini to the next level.